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GENE HARRIS: PLAYS ON THE EMOTIONS

According to what must have been the brainchild of a record label guru, the members of Gene Harris' quartet were each blessed with a special chromosome -- dubbed a "funkosome" -- that provides them the genetics necessary for innate soulfulness, and provides the record label reason enough to title one of the group's recordings "Funky Gene's."

But Gene Harris doesn't see it that way.

"I think every human being is born with that extra chromosome," says Harris, who performs here this week, on the heels of his March release, "Brotherhood" (Concord). (Concerts begin at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Canisius College Cultural Center and the same time Saturday at Lewiston's Artpark-at-the-Church.)

"Every person has that feeling for love and for hate, so when you play music, you play love and you play hate," Harris adds. "It doesn't matter whether you're trained or not."

And when you have the experience and clout earned from 40 years of crowd-pleasing playing, it doesn't matter if you live in jazz hubs like New York or Los Angeles.

You can, instead, settle into a comfy cul-de-sac in Boise, Idaho.

"I lived in New York for 10 years, and I lived in L.A. for 12 years. I don't want to be a 24-hour-a-day jazz musician like I was when I was 25," says the 61-year-old musician.

"I'm not running after girls at night and going to after-hours parties. I'm doing all the other stuff that other normal human beings do.

"Because I have an extensive recording career," he adds, "it doesn't matter where I live."

During the 1970s, Harris chose to settle with his wife in her native state, home of Ore-Ida tater tots but also of the only university whose music school is named after a jazz musician: The University of Idaho's Lionel Hampton School of Music.

During the annual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho, one promising young pianist receives the $500 Gene Harris music scholarship. And each year Harris listens to the recipient play, he realizes there's nothing to fear about the future of jazz.

"Everything has changed now," Harris says of the music scene. "It used to be hard rock, but now it's softer, more mellow and much more diversified. During the Beatles era, they just took over, and it just seemed like no one cared what anyone else was doing. That had to pass, and it did."

At the 1994 Hampton festival, Harris saw a 12-year-old pianist play "My Funny Valentine" "as well as any grown-up could."

That's lofty praise from the man whose rendition of the ballade on the "Gene Harris at Maybeck" recording was lauded as a "revelation" by one magazine critic.

"(Harris) understands that piano like almost no one else," says Lionel Hampton jazz fest director Lynn Skinner, who first heard Harris play when he was part of the Ray Brown Trio. "He knows the blues idiom like no one else.

"He's got such power on that piano. He needs no one by his side to make it happen."

Growing up in Benton Harbor, Mich., during the '40s and '50s, Harris found inspiration in the recordings of Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. In 1956 he formed the Three Sounds with bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Bill Dowdy.

Over the years he has performed with Benny Carter, Ron Carter, Stanley Turrentine, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin and others.

In 1989, the Philip Morris Corp. asked Harris to assemble a "super band" for an international tour. The tour's success prompted encores in '90 and '91.

Harris still travels about six months out of the year with fellow quartet members Ron Eschete (guitar), Luther Hughes (bass) and Paul Humphrey (drums). These days, more extended touring is out of the question.

"I could be booked every day of the week, but I want to enjoy my home life," Harris says. "I've worked it out so I can play less and make more money.

"Some people, because I live in Boise, think that's where they're going to see me play," says Harris, quickly adding: "Not when I can get $125 a ticket in Egypt."

Review Gene Harris Jazz Pianist At 8 P.M. Thursday and Friday in the Canisius College cultural Center, 8 P.M. Saturday at Lewiston's Art-park-at-the -Church.

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